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If it’s under water, Midco Diving & Marine Services Inc. wants to look at it

By Jess Campbell

When you’re facing unknown territory or a significant challenge – in life, in your career or in your industry – there’s usually a right way and a wrong way to approach it. Robert Greenspan, owner and president of Midco Diving & Marine Services Incorporated in Rapid City, S.D., has made it his mission to service his clients and build his business the right way – and it appears to be working for him.

Necessities of work

Native to California, Greenspan began scuba diving as a teen and had an epiphany in his early 20s.

“I had a career in retail management and I decided there was no way I could be doing that when I was 50,” he said. “I took an opportunity to go to commercial diving trade school in New Jersey, at the Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard, in 1993.”

Greenspan moved back to his home state and, after struggling to find work, finally landed a job with The Port of Oakland where, between the international airport and the cargo container ships, there are more than 12 miles of waterfront to maintain. After several years, he got a job in Montana “doing mostly drinking water tank work. We’d go on the road for two months at a time and then come back and have two weeks off. For a single young guy, it was pretty all right.”

Around Christmas in 2000, Greenspan was on vacation in Rapid City and met his now-wife, Heather. Once they began dating, he knew he didn’t want to be away for months at a time, so he took a sales and project management job in South Carolina. Soon after, Midco was born, although not without difficulty.

“In 2003, we moved back to Rapid City where my wife had family and started the business more out of needing a job than anything else,” said Greenspan. “The plan hadn’t been to stay in Rapid City. We had a new baby by then and were living with the grandparents, and had, essentially, nothing. The job I thought I was going to have didn’t work out. So, I started putting the company together.”

Working at night, on weekends and in any other spare moment to build his business, Greenspan also worked four days a week as a milk delivery man.

“I’d go to work at midnight, do my route until noon the next day then I’d come home and work on Midco, trying to get work.” Even though it was tough, Greenspan knew he was in the right business. “I went with this business because I enjoy the type of work that we do. It was the one business I could get into that I knew something about. I’d been in the industry for the previous 10 years, so it was natural for me to go that way.”

Greenspan’s endless hours of hard work began to pay off and he was finally able to bring someone on to help build the business.

“I got to the point where I hired Roger King, who was with me for nine years, as vice president of sales and marketing,” said Greenspan. “He’d been in the industry almost as long as I had been. He started doing sales for me. About three or four months after he started doing that, I had enough work banked up where I could quit the dairy.”

“We did a job in Colorado where we dove through the ice. There was concrete cast-in-place piling that was buckling due to the movement of the ice in the pond. It was logistically a tough project for us because it was the middle of winter.”
– Robert Greenspan, Midco Diving & Marine Services Inc.

A team underwater

These days, Midco is the go-to commercial diving company for almost everyone and almost anything.

“I always say, if it’s under water, we’ll take a look at it,” said Greenspan. “We do a very broad spectrum of work.”

The team at Midco are certified in areas such as underwater inspection, repair projects, marine construction and more.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve recovered a car in a lake,” said Greenspan. “We’ve done water tower work maintenance. We were tracking a natural gas pipeline across the Missouri River for a new bridge that’s going in.”

When he says they’ll look at anything, he means it.

“We dive in wastewater for sewage treatment plant work. There’s a lot of extra equipment; the diver can’t see anything, the smell can get pretty bad and, of course, there are sanitary issues. We charge a bit more for those jobs because, well, there’s definitely a ‘gross factor.’”

Of course, not every job that Midco takes includes a high level of “grossness.”

“We did a job in Colorado where we dove through the ice. There was concrete cast-in-place piling that was buckling due to the movement of the ice in the pond. It was logistically a tough project for us because it was the middle of winter. We were diving in hot water suits, which is basically where you wear a wetsuit and you pump hot water in – it’s like diving in a jacuzzi. It’s the best way to work in cold water; you don’t want to get out because you start getting cold again!”

Like any growing business, success doesn’t come from having one person do all the work. According to Greenspan, there are a few key people that are just as much responsible for Midco’s success as he is.

“Roger King was my sales guy until recently. He did a lot of things here – logistics, conferences and trade shows, all our speaking engagements. He’s a big part of getting us to where we are today. Then there’s my assistant, Lori Keller. I always say that if I ever shut this company down, she would be the very last person to go. She’s my right hand. And I’ve got a good shop guy, Dakota Abbot. He works on the equipment and does well with the crew. He’s only been in that position for about a year but he’s doing really well.”

Diving right

The commercial diving industry is a difficult one, especially for divers just starting out, which is something Greenspan is quick to mention. The travel and long stretches of time away from family and friends can take a toll on everyone, not just those new to the industry. Although it can be difficult work, Greenspan takes a lot of pride in being able to offer gainful employment opportunities to his team.

“Having good employees and giving a livelihood to other people [is a great accomplishment]. I’ve got some really good guys on the team right now. I really try to keep my eye out for the good guys. If I see someone who has potential, I try to keep my eye on them and maybe take them under my wing a bit, make sure I’m taking care of them and that they have what they need to succeed and feel good about the work they’re doing.”

When it comes to giving advice to new divers getting into the business as well as clients looking to hire a commercial diving company, Greenspan is straight with his answer: do it right.

“I think it really boils down to educating the end user about what it takes to safely put a guy under water. It’s not just about going to the scuba shop and asking them to do it. Guys need to be certified. You need the right insurance. You need to meet all your regulations and standards. There are qualifications for dive teams – accredited education, dive physicals, First Aid, CPR. Equipment needs to be tested and certified. Everybody needs to have that under their belt.”

Having the proper insurance is, according to Greenspan, one of the other aspects of hiring a commercial diving company that clients aren’t necessarily aware of. While Midco provides their insurance certificate to clients as a standard policy, Greenspan says it’s important for companies to know what to ask for before they hire someone for underwater work.

Having recently moved his team into a new building on new property, Greenspan is proud of all that Midco has become, especially given its humble beginnings. But even though they’ve seen a lot of success in the short time they’ve been in business, he says there are no plans to slow it down.

“My goal, personally, is to get the right people in place so I can at some point not be so hands-on,” said Greenspan. “I really want to develop good people and provide good opportunities, so we can continue to grow. Because if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.